Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lessons from early childhood

Growing up in the country was a tremendous gift to me. I learned to notice the details in life, to sit quietly and think, to come up with ideas and test them, to see the beauty that surrounded me, to play fair and to face my fears and really live life!  

When I was a little girl, my best friend, Bonnie,  lived next door.  Our property was separated by a wire fence.  Our favorite place to sit and talk was between two fence posts about 20 feet in front of our garage.

Bonnie and I were pretty hard on the fence.  We climbed over it, through it and under it.  We would find boards to put through the openings in the fence to make a teeter totter.  That was probably the worst thing we could have done to that fence, but it was also the most fun!  

Our favorite thing to do didn’t hurt the fence at all.  Bonnie and I loved to crack stones.  My side of the fence was near our driveway.  Our driveway had stones of every color and shape,  Along the edge of the driveway, there were some large, heavy rocks that Bonnie and I would use to crack the smaller stones from the driveway,   I would gather a handful of stones of varied sizes, shapes and colors, then each of us would choose one, and we would use our big smasher rock to break the smaller one.  Then we would compare to see who had the most valuable or most interesting stone.  Some sparkled, some smelled like smoke, and some had a lot of layers.  Some were pink, others were gray or silver, and still others were boring brown.   We imagined how valuable the stones filled with golden sparkles must be.  Millions of dollars, at least...  We could crack rocks for hours each day.  

We had a field behind our house.  In the summer, when the grass in the field was high, I would roll through the grass, flattening it, and creating “rooms” in the field.  I had a kitchen, a living room and a bedroom.  The bedroom had lots of loose grass piled up in one corner to make a bed.  The kitchen had cattails and green apples for our “lunch.”  Bonnie made a “house” in her field, too.  She had to share hers with her younger brother, and younger sister.  

When I was young, I never thought it unusual that Bonnie and I didn’t visit each other’s houses very often.  Our parents would let us visit if we asked them, but they would always set a time limit like one or two hours.  Our parents didn’t want us to be a bother to the other family.   We were so excited if we got to visit for more than one hour!  What a treat!  

We played lots of outdoor games.  I don’t remember spending much time inside as a child.  From early in the morning, until late at night, I played outside.  In the daytime, we played “Andy Over” a game that involved tossing a ball over a rooftop, and shouting “Andy Over.”   If we didn’t have a ball, we used whatever we could find like a frisbee or my brother, Gary’s baseball cap.  I was in big trouble the day I got his cap stuck on the roof...  We, also, played tag, softball, croquet, hide and seek, and “Red Rover.”  

At night, we played “Kick the can” flashlight tag or “Ghosts in the Graveyard.”  “Kick the can” was my favorite!   

When we tired of playing games, we might catch fireflies and put them in jars with air holes in the lids.  We would watch their little lights flash on and off, until we were ready to move on to other things, then we would release them back into the night.  

If it was a clear night, we might bring blankets outside and lay on our backs in the grass looking for constellations in the night sky.  In the 1960s, our galaxy, the Milky Way was a thick white band of millions of stars that stretched across the sky.  It still is a thick white band of millions of stars, but because of the light pollution in norheast  Ohio, it can no longer be seen with the naked eye.   That’s a shame!  I don’t think that the night sky fills children with wonder and awe the way tt did when I was a little girl.  When I look up at night now, I almost feel as though I can count the stars in the sky.  When I was young, I could barely tell where one star ended and another began.  It was impossible to count them.

In the spring, I would gather yellow dandelion flowers for our lunch.  My mom told me to pick just the blossom.  She said to be sure there was no stem attached, because the stem was bitter.  I would take a huge bowl of dandelion flowers to my mom, and she would wash them carefully, then immediately dredge them in flour and fry them in butter!  Oh, the deliciousness!  These days you have to be careful not to pick dandelions that have been sprayed, but in those days, that was never a problem.  Not many country people worried about having dandelions in their yards.

There was a pond behind our house.  We shared it with our neighbor.  Bonnie and I would meet at the fence and walk down to the pond, with the fence still between us, then we would each head in opposite directions, walking around the pond, until we met on the far side, where there was no fence to separate us.  We would play together there for a few minutes, then we would go our separate ways back to the fence.  

It was fun to look for all kinds of animals, bugs, plants and reptiles when we played near the pond.  There were cattails and water reeds growing all around the pond.  The water reeds had a very tender edible piece in the base of the stem, near the root of the reed.  I loved to find that piece and eat it.  

There were garter snakes and water snakes, moles, muskrats, groundhogs, Red-winged Blackbirds, dragonflies, damselflies, snapping turtles and fish.  The snakes and snapping turtles were not my favorites, but they were okay from a distance.

I loved to help my dad mow the field in the summertime.  We had a Farmall Cub tractor, with a mower attachment, and I would ride on the hitch, behind the driver’s seat.  It took awhile to mow our field, but it always seemed to go so fast.  I loved riding on the back of the tractor.   

When we had a big mowing job to do, my dad would borrow my Uncle Ed’s big John Deere tractor.   I loved riding on the back of the John Deere even more than I loved riding on the Farmall Cub.  Number 1, because it was really big, and number 2, because it made such a great sound!   Nothing sounded as grand as a two-cylinder John Deere!

When we were done with the mowing, my dad and I would be ready for my mom’s famous lemonade!!   My mom made the most delicious lemonade.  She would slice 3 or 4 lemons into a big wide mouth thermos.  She always used a long butcher knife with a serrated blade.  To the mound of lemon slices, she would add sugar.  Then came my favorite part.  She would take the wooden “stomper” from her aluminum food mill and she would stomp every drop of juice out of those lemon slices.  Then she would pour a pitcher of water over the lemon slices, juice and sugar.  She stirred it till it was mixed and the sugar was dissolved, then she would pour the finished lemonade in glasses filled with ice.   We would all stay cool on the hottest summer day, by sitting in the shadiest spot and sipping that icy cold lemonade!   

Growing up in the country was such a rich and joyful experience.  I wish everyone could experience the many sights, sounds and smells of country living.

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